Throughout the month of February, residents at Youville House and Youville Place are delving into the work of the early 20th century poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Stephen Collins, the teacher of the seminar, arrives each week with print-outs of the day’s assigned poems. After reading each poem, Collins and residents discuss their reactions, identifying weighted words, rhetorical shifts, and important themes. He urges residents to contribute their own observations, and is particularly adept at weaving together a variety of reactions and tying them back to the poem under examination.
Last Wednesday at Youville House, the group spent time on the poem “When The Year Grows Old.” Often thought to be about Millay’s mother, the poem provoked discussion about what one resident described as “the fallacy of memory.”
She had a look about her
That I wish I could forget –
The look of a scared thing
Sitting in a net!
Millay won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver” and went on to accumulate a body of work that explored love and desire from a feminist perspective, with a frankness that was shocking for its time.
As Collins told the residents in his seminar, Millay’s sonnets, at their best, are “as good as any sonnet Shakespeare ever wrote.” And don’t think that Collins doesn’t adequately appreciate Shakespeare. He leads another seminar on The Bard himself.
“If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book, it would be the complete works of Shakespeare,” he says.
Collins has also run seminars on Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, and Robert Frost, both in schools and in senior living communities throughout New England.
The poetry seminar at Youville runs through February, Wednesdays at 3:00 PM at Youville House and Mondays at 1:30 PM at Youville Place.